Big East affair pits Irish against Bearcats

The Cincinnati Bearcats will try to dig themselves out of a rut when they head to Purcell Pavilion for a Big East Conference tilt with the No. 25 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday afternoon.

On Thursday the Bearcats fell in overtime, 73-66, to Connecticut in Hartford for their fourth loss in the last five games. Cincinnati is still in search of its 20th win this season, while sporting an even 7-7 mark in league play. The Bearcats are actually in the bottom half of the Big East standings despite being one of seven teams with at least 19 wins. Cincinnati gets a rematch with Connecticut in its next outing.

Notre Dame grinded out a 51-42 victory on the road over No. 20 Pittsburgh in its last outing. The victory was the third in the last four matchups for the Fighting Irish who are one of five teams in the Big East with at least 20 wins. Notre Dame is in fifth place in the crowded conference standings but just a game behind three teams tied for second, including No. 17 Marquette who the Fighting Irish face next.

When these teams met in early January the Fighting Irish had all five starters in double figures as they pulled out a 66-60 victory. With the win Notre Dame has taken victories in four of the last five contests to improve to 9-4 in the all-time series.

Titus Rubles collected an offensive rebound and hit the ensuing put back to give Cincinnati a 55-53 lead with less than a minute left against UConn. Shabazz Napier answered with an acrobatic layup to knot the game up. The Bearcats had a chance to win the game but Cashmere Wright was guilty of a backcourt violation on the next Bearcat possession and the game went to overtime. In the extra period Cincinnati missed four shots from 3-point range and was outscored 11-9 from the free-throw line.

A trio of backcourt scorers lead the way for the Bearcats. Sean Kilpatrick (18.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is the most potent offensive threat, ranking fourth in the Big East in points. Wright (13.2 ppg, 3.4 apg) is the primary ball handler and lead distributor though he does shoot below 40 percent from the field. JaQuon Parker (11.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) provides additional offensive punch from the perimeter. Cincinnati is second worst in the conference in field-goal percentage (.417) but has been strong on defense, holding teams to fewer than 60 points per game on 38.2 percent shooting. Cincinnati is also the fifth best rebounding team in the nation (41.1 pg).

Notre Dame held Pittsburgh to eight field goals in each period and 34.8 percent shooting overall in its win on Monday. The Fighting Irish also outscored the Panthers 24-0 from beyond the arc and had a 40-25 edge on the boards.

Efficiency is the key on the offensive end of the floor for Notre Dame. Unlike Cincinnati, the Fighting Irish are shooting the best percentage from the field (.477) in the Big, East while ranking second in the country in assists (17.7 pg). Notre Dame enjoys a nearly 10-point scoring margin this season by holding teams to 63.9 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting. Jack Cooley (14.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg) anchors the squad from the frontcourt as a constant double-double threat. Cooley has produced 18 double-doubles this season which is tied for the second most in the country. Jerian Grant (13.0 ppg, 5.6 apg) and Eric Atkins (11.6 ppg, 6.0 apg) are a powerful backcourt duo who knows how to move the ball well.